MPs have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion declaring that sex-selection abortion is illegal.
They voted 181 to 1 for a motion brought forward by a cross-party alliance of MPs in an effort to end uncertainty over whether doctors can be prosecuted for the practice. It will now have a second reading in January.
Confusion over the law was exposed last year by the decision of the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer, not to bring charges against two doctors caught on camera agreeing to arrange abortions of baby girls purely because of their sex, in a Telegraph investigation.
The case was investigated by Scotland Yard and passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service which said that although there was enough evidence, it was not in the “public interest” to bring charges.
But Sir Keir later issued a detailed explanation pointing out that the law “does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions”. He said doctors have “wide discretion” in assessing whether continuing the pregnancy could threaten the physical or mental health of the mother or her existing children.
Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP said Britain’s biggest abortion provider is failing in its duty to condemn gender-based terminations by refusing to tell pregnant women that they are illegal.
She told the Commons: “It is a shame that this clarification is needed. Successive health minsters and even the Prime Minister have been very clear they state that abortion for reasons of gender alone is illegal. The Prime Minister has described the practice as appalling but they are being ignored.
“The British Pregnancy Advisory Service which provides around 60,000 abortions a year flatly disagrees. Even today they are advising women in one of their leaflets and on their website that abortion for reasons of foetal sex is not illegal because the law is silent on the matter.
“The British Medical Association hold yet anther interpretation. They argue that having a child of a particular gender may be a legal and ethical justification for an abortion on the basis that the sex of the child may severely affect the pregnant woman’s mental health.”
Some campaigners say that the abortion act must protect women who are under often violent pressure from partners to have a male child.
Mrs Bruce added: “I find it deplorable that anyone would be satisfied to provide a sex selective abortion to a woman who after she has had it is then sent afterwards back to an abusive partner. what needs to be addressed in these dire circumstances is the abuse itself. That is one of the aims of this bill.”